Clinical Stokes swoops to seal points for Celtic
Anthony Stokes' first-half tap-in gave much-changed Celtic victory over St Johnstone in their insipid Clydesdale Bank Premier League clash at Parkhead.
The Dubliner, one of seven changes to Neil Lennon's side, bagged his 21st goal of the season from close range in the 29th minute after strike partner Mo Bangura had caused confusion in the visitors' defence following a Hoops corner.
Celtic stand-in goalkeeper Lukasz Zaluska made a good save from Saints midfielder Murray Davidson just before the interval and Bangura struck the post after the break but the match was generally free from excitement and the champions ran out comfortable winners.
Lennon, as promised, utilised his squad but it would have been difficult to judge his fringe players in such a low-key match.
Full-back Mark Wilson, whose last game was on October 29, came back in as captain, along with number two keeper Zaluska, defenders Kelvin Wilson and Thomas Rogne, midfielder Dylan McGeouch — making his first start — Stokes and Bangura, back for the first time since December.
Out went Adam Matthews, Charlie Mulgrew, Scott Brown, Georgios Samaras, Fraser Forster and Gary Hooper, the latter two on the bench.
Saints manager, Ulsterman Steve Lomas, also reshuffled his side following their 5-1 defeat by Motherwell at the weekend.
Defender Callum Davidson, midfielders Chris Millar and Jamie Adams and striker Cillian Sheridan came in with Frazer Wright, David Robertson, Marcus Haber and Derek Riordan dropping out, the last two named among the substitutes.
Former Northern Ireland midfielder Lennon took his place in the stand after being handed an immediate three-match touchline ban for confronting referee Euan Norris after last month's William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by Hearts.
The ex Celtic skipper, who had just served a two-match touchline ban for criticising referee Willie Collum following March's Scottish Communities League Cup final defeat by Kenny Shiels’ Kilmarnock at Hampden, received a six-match ban in total with half of the punishment suspended until the end of next season.
Stokes gave the home side the lead just before the half-hour mark and it came after the Hoops were awarded what looked like a contentious corner, when Liam Craig tackled Stokes.
McGeouch's corner eventually arrived with Mark Wilson who played it into the box and when Bangura's mis-hit shot went across Saints keeper Alan Mannus, the former Linfield stopper, Stokes was waiting to tap into an empty net, the visitors appealing for offside to no avail.
There was some drama right at the very end when linesman Raymond Whyte injured himself while running and had to be replaced by fourth official David Somers for the last few seconds.